While bands faced challenges and needed to adapt during COVID, the music scene in Guelph is growing once more with the return of live music.
Local organizations play a big role in supporting the music scene. GAIN Media, founded by Nik Wever around the end of 2010, aims to give back to the local music scene in Guelph. GAIN Media, which stands for Guelph & Area Independent & New Media, changed recently in 2021 from GAIN Music, with the intention of including more of the local arts and multimedia scene, encompassing more of what Guelph has to offer.
GAIN Media’s main focus is its festival, GAIN Fest, a yearly festival showcasing Guelph’s local musicians. Wever said they aim to provide a variety of bands and musicians spanning genres, while also balancing many youth and up and coming bands with some larger acts.
“If you don’t have a good support network for local musicians, artists, bands, and everything like that, and DJs as well, and if they don't have stages and places to perform, it makes it hard to kind of make it to that next level,” Wever said.
He’s worked with lots of bands over the years and gets to know them through local events or through bands reaching out to him. He said there’s often a surplus of bands who reach out regarding festival involvement, and GAIN Media works to find space for these new and seasoned musicians, whether in the festival or external events. 
One local Guelph band, Excuse Me., have been on the scene for five years and they have found Guelph to be a supportive place to grow their band. The five-member alternative rock group began practising in lead singer Aleks Liskauskas’s space, which burned down just days before their first show.
The moment solidified their desire to follow through and prioritize the band. Five years later, they have released several projects, including a self-titled studio album, Excuse Me. and four EPs, with more to come. “We’re still kicking. Forged in fire, you could say” said Liskauskas.
Excuse Me. have worked with GAIN Media as their band has grown and are performing at GAIN Fest again this year. Liskauskas points to the opportunities that came from this connection. “It’s cool having someone in the scene that has a connection to everyone else. In our early days as a band, that was kind of invaluable to have a resource like that, that had access to cool venues and was willing to take a band with less of an established following and put them on the bill.”
Creating a sense of community and a space to foster new talent is important to Wever. He said, “I think being an open and safe space has always been very important. For the festival, you can’t have a community without being open to everyone.”
But the community had to adjust during the pandemic. Without in person concerts and events, the music scene found ways to adapt during COVID. For Wever, the break from the festival came as a blessing in disguise. Leading up to the 2020 festival, he faced some challenges, including the closure of a main venue, so the certainty of where and when to hold the festival was up in the air.
Personally, he was also facing burnout, and the pandemic acted as a way to take a step back and re-evaluate GAIN Fest. He said, “It was something that I’ve been running for so long, you know, by myself, but with a lot of partners and friends to help along but it was starting to take a toll and the pandemic was kind of the first vacation that I've had in well over a decade.”
This break prompted some changes, including the change to GAIN Media from GAIN Music. They began to focus more on an online presence and showcasing bands in new ways. This included live streams of concerts, and also live streams of a band’s behind the scenes music making. Wever said, “it really opened it up to see the amount of hours that actually goes in that people don’t necessarily see. I think people kind of expect art and music to just be there, and that’s definitely not the case.”
Excuse Me. also faced some new challenges during COVID. While they couldn’t perform, this meant they also couldn’t connect to live audiences. They turned to social media to interact with fans virtually, and each band member alternated days of posting content. Dylan Creed, the band’s bassist, posted cooking segments on their Instagram and found it a fun way to connect with fans and get to know them more in return.
Most of their time during the pandemic was spent writing. Most of the members were in close proximity and free to pick up writing sessions often, but with one band member isolating farther away, coordinating these sessions proved difficult. “He literally couldn’t come over, he was living in the city for a year, and we didn’t see him very much because of lockdown,” said Adam Kuhrt, the band’s guitarist.
The Guelph music scene has been recovering since the pandemic, as well as following some venue closures including the recent conversion of the downtown eBar into an office/performing arts space in March 2023. But Liskauskas is finding that crowds are slowly becoming less hesitant to return to concerts and to return with near full enthusiasm.
He noticed during Excuse Me.’s first few concerts back that there was some awkwardness in the crowds. Where their concerts were normally filled with dancing, audiences initially seemed more cautious as they made their return to live music.
“We’re not a sit-down kind of band,” Kuhrt said, who still notices some hesitancy from their crowds. He said, “Everyone’s sort of waiting for someone else to start doing it, which I think it’s always been like that, but I feel like it’s a little bit more now than it used to be.”
Liskauskas said it’s all about showing encouragement for audiences where they need it. He points to the whole group of high school students who lost out on their first concert experiences during COVID. While at that age, they would usually start to gravitate towards shows and live music, they are only now starting to find their way into the music scene. Liskauskas said “it's about inviting them into that space and making sure that they have a good time… hopefully things will get back to where they were. But yeah, some people might just need more of a helping hand.”
Looking forward, Liskauskas is excited to keep making and experimenting with music. “I think we’re in a beautiful position in the band where we can bring all different ideas to the table, and instead of them being shut down, we’re still at a point where we can kind of push our boundaries with each project… As long as we get to keep writing music that kind of scares us a little bit because it’s pushing the boundaries, I’m happy.” ​​​​​​​

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